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F&B Brands Enter Virtual Worlds to Reach New Consumers

fast food, advertising, virtual reality, gaming

As food and beverage brands look for new ways to drive acquisition and loyalty, key players are turning to virtual worlds to reach consumers in more parts of their day-to-day digital routines.

Take, for instance, video game worlds. Quick-service restaurant (QSR) chain Whataburger announced Monday (July 8) the launch of its first tournament within online video game Fortnite, where consumers compete to win cash prizes. The gameplay features a range of Whataburger-branded items, characters and spaces.

In the spring, fast-casual brand Wow Bao partnered with game platform and game creation system Roblox, integrating the platform with its rewards program to enable consumers to earn coupons for physical food items through virtual play.

“By connecting the Roblox community with our online ordering channels and rewards program, we are inviting new customers to experience our brand, rewarding our most frequent guests, and embarking on something that has never been done,” Wow Bao president and CEO Geoff Alexander said in a statement.

By launching these experiences within popular games, these eateries aim to engage younger audiences in a dynamic environment that offers a degree of immersion that traditional advertising cannot equal.

The strategy taps into the growing trend of gamification, where interactive and entertaining content fosters brand loyalty and enhances customer engagement. These moves reflect a broader shift in marketing tactics, recognizing that the future of customer engagement lies in meeting consumers outside high-intent platforms, reaching them where they have fun and socially connect.

Consumers are open to experiences that integrate purchasing into their leisure routines. The PYMNTS Intelligence study “How We Will Pay Report: How Connected Devices Enable Multitasking Among Digital-First Consumers” found that, among the 76% of consumers who multitask while engaged in leisure activities, 27% do so to make purchases from restaurants.

Furthermore, food brands are also taking on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to similarly engage consumers in non-traditional ways. For instance, sweets brand Crumbl Cookies has an Apple Vision Pro app that offers ordering and integrates with its loyalty program. Plus, on Monday, White Castle debuted AR packaging offering immersive experiences tied to and in partnership with the film “Borderlands.”

A couple years ago, Wendy’s began exploring the metaverse through Meta’s Horizon Worlds platform. In an interview with PYMNTS in 2022, Jimmy Bennett, then vice president of media and social at the QSR company (now global head of brand engagement), explained that brands’ key to success in digital spaces is their ability to tap the expertise of those who already know what they are doing.

“When we started working on the Wendyverse, we identified that the creator culture plays a key role,” Bennett said. “As brands are beginning to engage in this new dimension, it is important to respect the individuals and fans who have been in this space and made it what it is today.”

Indeed, consumers are interested in AR and VR buying experiences. The same How We Will Pay study revealed that among the 95% of consumers who own or have in their home at least one internet-connected device, one in three said they were very or extremely interested in using VR technology to shop and buy retail products that are in a physical store from their home or office.